BIRDS are dying at a rate of a million per year across the UK, with key Scottish species badly hit, a report warns today.
Statistics reveal that the number of breeding birds fell from 210 million in 1966 to 166m by 2009 – a loss of 44m birds over 44 years.
The State of UK’s Birds 2012 report has raised specific concerns for two UK wintering sea ducks predominantly found in Scotland which are now feared to be threatened with extinction worldwide.
The velvet scoter has dropped from several thousand to fewer than 100 in the UK, while numbers of long-tailed duck plummeted from 10,000 to fewer than 1,000.
Seabirds in Scotland, which account for nearly half (45 per cent) of Europe’s breeding populations, also saw large declines, fuelling fears that they could also be wiped out.
Falls of 75 per cent were recorded for the roseate tern, which is now down to 89 pairs, while the Arctic skua dropped 72 per cent to 2,100 pairs.
Both species are now red-listed, meaning they are of “high conservation concern”.
They are among ten of 18 seabird species monitored in the UK which have suffered long-term declines since 1986 when recordings started.
The dramatic losses, which mirrors the situation elsewhere, including the Baltic Sea, have been blamed on a combination of factors including climate change, habitat loss and food shortages.
Stuart Housden, director of the charity RSPB Scotland, said: “It is shocking and disappointing to think that over the past half-century the UK has lost one in five of its individual birds, many of which are of such importance to Scotland. There have been many changes across the UK that have affected birds, including shifts in land-use, habitat loss, climate change, the rise in some non-native species and a lack of food.
“It is therefore vital that, where possible, we try to support declining species, be it by reducing emissions, making more space for wildlife on our farmland, undertaking further research to understand the causes of decline or, in the case of seabirds and threatened wintering species, building resilience into populations through the designation and positive management of marine protected areas.”
Numbers of velvet scoter and long-tailed ducks recorded in separate Baltic Sea surveys have also fallen sharply, down by 65 per cent and 60 per cent respectively since 1992.
Richard Hearn, head of species monitoring at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, called for swift action to save the sea ducks from extinction.
He said: “Sea duck numbers in Europe have crashed and they urgently need conservation. Velvet scoter overwintering in the UK have gone from several thousand birds to less than a hundred in just a few years, and the picture for long-tailed duck is similar.
“To be effective we need all countries to work more closely together.”
The report was produced by a group of wildlife organisations including the RSPB and the British Trust for Ornithology.